Friday, October 05, 2007

On David Cameron, Facebook and life

Earlier this week David Cameron (bless) spoke to the party faithful at Blackpool. In a well received speech he mentioned the Internet saying
"We live in an extraordinary world of change and freedom. The Internet is transforming people's lives. The website MySpace has got 130m members. If it was a country, it would be the tenth biggest country in the world. Facebook, the social networking site, 30m members.

People are using it to talk with each other and meet people. I had a look the other day. There is a network on Facebook called 'David Cameron is a hottie'. It's got 74 members. And I looked a little further and there is another network called 'Am I the only person who doesn't like David Cameron?' and it's got 379 members - I am sure there is nobody here today. But the point is a serious one."
He's so right, "the Internet is transforming people's lives" yet Cameron, his speech writers, his advisers and his party so obviously don't understand it. He describes MySpace as a website and Facebook as a social network as if they were in someway different. He has explored Facebook, or someone has shown him around, yet he made no mention finding things of interest in MySpace. Remember danah writing about American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace?

He tells us that there is a network called "David Cameron is a hottie" and another called "Am I the only person who doesn't like David Cameron?" (facebook membership required), In telling his Conference (and us) of these networks he aims to impress but fails, revealing in fact that neither he nor his advisers understand how Facebook works. The networks he describes are not networks they are groups of little importance. I find it hard to understand how belonging to a group of like minded people who think that David Cameron is a hottie might "transform my life".

Networks lie at the heart of Facebook's structure, originally based on colleges networks have expanded and are now consist of geographical regions, colleges, workplaces and High Schools. Within these networks members join groups (such as those described by Cameron) often directly related to their personal interests.

A brief glance at these groups shows that conversation here is limited. Indeed to the members it is the belonging to the group that matters. I suspect that many Facebook users place or choose groups for their profile in the same way as train spotters might sport lapel badges or a WAG might leave books scattered on a coffee table.

Observers of Mr. Cameron on the Web or at his Conference might be persuaded of his digital credentials. I am not so sure. In Prensky's terms Cameron's words tell us that he is more of a digital immigrant than a digital native.

He is of course not alone, in every workplace, every classroom, every lecture theatre, every Faculty we constantly encounter those who would have us believe that their understanding of our digitally connected world is much more advanced than our own. Their voices are often strident, loud, and convincing but we need to take care that we are not led astray. Remember the story of the Emperor's New Clothes?

There was another speech much reported at Blackpool this week, 'the quiet man spoke'. Firmly embedded in the real world, he reminded the conference that
“You cannot love your country if you do not care for its beating heart, the people who live in this country"
Whatever our personal enthusiasm for the wonders of the Internet or Web 2.0 might be, those of us who are or were teachers, need to remember that all our work must be grounded in the real world, with real students in real groups and communities.

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